…this post was updated ,with a notice, on Dec. 22, 2020…

WHO EMF Project preparation of the review of the science related to health effects of RF-EMF is severely delayed. It was planned to happen after the publication of the Interphone study, at the time when Mike Repacholi was still head of the EMF Project. It means that there is currently some 10 years delay. The work on currently ongoing systematic reviews begun in 2018. Now, in the end of 2020 the first paper describing process of selection of health effects for the systematic reviews has come out.

As I have discussed with Emilie van Deventer in 2017 at the BioEM meeting in Hangzhou, China, the major problem she encountered in preparation of the systematic reviews of RF-EMF science, was the lack of funding. This lack of funding is clearly seen in the outcome of the first article from the WHO EMF Project systematic review. There lack of funding prevented free selection of the evidence for review and “cuts” had to be made in how many systematic reviews could be performed.

The peer-reviewed article in question is:

Jos Verbeek, Gunnhild Oftedal, Maria Feychting, Eric van Rongen, Maria Rosaria Scarfì, Simon Mann, Rachel Wong, Emilie van Deventer. Prioritizing health outcomes when assessing the effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields: A survey among experts. Environment International 146 (2021) 106300

Notice: using this poor quality survey presented in the above peer-reviewed article, WHO EMF Project will claim that the minimal number of topics selected for the systematic reviews were scientifically “vetted” with the EMF science community. This would be a far-fetched claim, not in line with the “evidence” presented in the article… [notice added on Dec. 22, 2020]

The article is based on questionnaire sent to 300 scientists involved in some ways in research on RF-EMF. Oddly, only 164 scientists responded by filling out the questionnaire either fully or in part (for the record: Leszczynski has received survey and have filled it out and returned to EMF Project on May 31, 2018). It is possible that some of the experts were busy and missed the short deadline. The experts were contacted on May 29, 2018 and responses were requested by the June 24, 2018. It is also possible that some of the experts did not respond because of their critical views on dealings of the WHO EMF Project and dealings of the ICNIRP that influences works of the WHO EMF Project. It is also odd that the survey data were received by June 24, 2018 but the article presenting the outcome was submitted for publication only on October 19, 2020 (some year and a half later) and well after the appointment of the systematic reviews teams in 2019. The systematic reviews are assumed to be published in early 2021, if no delays will happen…

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The authors of the survey article are well known from their activities in WHO EMF Project, ICNIRP or SSI. Some of them listed their conflicts of interests. Oddly, Emilie van Deventer listed no conflict of interest whatsoever. It is odd because of her several years of involvement in SSI that others listed as a potential CoI. What is more, on the list of authors, Emilie van Deventer is not listed as from the EMF Project – why?

The article presents data from the survey but the crucial data is missing. Who were the 300 experts invited? Who selected them and who assured representativness of the sample? Who were the experts that answered (164 experts) and who didn’t answer (136 experts)? Of course I do not mean names of the experts per se. What I mean is with what institutions they work (government, military, academia, telecom etc.), are they members of any ICNIRP or IEEE/ICES committees, are they members of any national review committees or EU committees, are they members of any of the so-called anti-wireless activist organizations (numerous on social media) or citizen-science groups (ICEMS, EHT, ORSAA etc.). This information is crucial for establishing the credibility of the survey and for finding out what was the potential selection bias when selecting 300 experts and what bias was introduced by the non-responders vs. responders.

In the abstract the authors stated:

“…In addition to heat-related effects of RF EMF, other yet-unspecified biological effects, might exist which could possibly lead to health effects…”

In this sentence the authors “diplomatically” agree that besides the well-established mechanisms of heat-effects, the sole mechanism for effects that is currently accepted by e.g. ICNIRP and IEEE/ICES, there might be other, so-called non-thermal effects where temperature increase is less than 1 degree Celsius (see article).

Here is another oddity of the whole RF-EMF and health problem. If the sole cause of any health effects of RF-EMF is considered temperature rise over 1 degree Celsius, as ICNIRP claims, then there should not be any health problems possible.

All RF-EMF emitting equipment emits energy levels that according to ICNIRP and telecoms cannot increase temperature of biological object by more than 1 degree Celsius.

So, as ICNIRP claims – no problem and no worries.

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And here is the oddity, the large number of studies in humans, animals and in vitro have shown biological and health effects caused by exposures that meet ICNIRP guidelines. It means that either all those scientists that demonstrated effects are wrong or the effects are induced by emissions below ICNIRP guidelines and then ICNIRP is wrong. Who is right?

Surveyed experts were asked to grade health outcomes on scale from 1 to 9 where 1 – 3 meant unimportant, 4 – 6 meant important but not critical and 7 – 9 meant critical. Only when grading effect as important or critical the experts were asked to provide justification for their choice. Oddly, when experts were grading some effects as unimportant they were not asked to justify their choice. This certainly introduced bias.

Out of the long list of potential health effects, listed in Figure 1, WHO EMF Project selected only those that had some 30% of responders calling it “critical for public health”. The 30% feels arbitrary because at the same time authors admit the shortage of funding to perform longer list of systematic reviews. It simply suggests that there needed to be done cuts and arbitrarily 30% was used because with this number the list of systematic reviews remained relatively short. This left several interesting end-points outside of the reviews… An oddity and bias.

Looking at the list of “potential adverse health effects” oddity comes again. The diseases are mixed up with mechanisms of effects. It may cause confusion.

The group of the so-called “heat related outcomes” consists of local pain, local burns, ocular temperature and heat shock. It means that the equipment causing such temperature-related effects would not be permitted on market because it would not fulfill ICNIRP guidelines. One cannot burn fingers touching phone or home wifi appliance.

However, there is also some confusion caused by the effect called “heat shock”. Heat shock is a historical name for cellular stress response where cell activates defense mechanisms to protect itself from damaging factor. Such factor can be increased temperature (even by 1 degree Celsius!), or chemicals, environmental pollutants and so on… So, the heat shock on the cellular level is caused not only by heat but also chemical stressors. Mixing it with local pain, local burns and ocular temperature confuses.

Another oddity among list of health effects is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is no health effect per se and not a disease. It is biochemical mechanism, activated by a broad variety of stressors, including RF-EMF, that may lead to pathological changes in physiology and, depending in what organ/tissue oxidative stress occurs, variety of diseases can be triggered by it.

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Therefore, the heat shock and oxidative stress should have been listed as potential mechanisms activated by the RF-EMF exposures and, logically, could cause non-thermally health effects.

Another oddity is likely related to the bias of selection of experts and bias caused by non-responders. Namely, in the coming era of 5G that will use mm-waves which will be absorbed solely by the skin, only 3 (!) experts pointed out on skin as an organ of interest for the systematic reviews.

This selection of the skin by only three of the responders suggests that indeed the survey was biased in selection of experts and later, bias might have been enhanced by the non-responders.

Finally, the authors stated:

We decided at the outset of this survey that systematic reviews will be needed for those topics that are rated as critical by a large proportion of the RF experts. As part of the WHO health risk assessment on RF EMF exposure, WHO has recently commissioned those reviews through an open call for expressions of interest. A selection committee convened by WHO ranked the teams based on the criteria related to qualifications and skills mentioned in the calls, including expertise in systematic review methodology, RF EMF expertise and expertise in the outcome of interest.”

We decided = who, the authors of this article or someone else?

A selection committee convened by WHO ranked the teams = who, WHO or WHO EMF Project convened the selection committee? Who were on committee that selected/dropped scientists that applied?

This information is currently secret… or on the need-to-know basis…

In summary, the survey of experts performed by the WHO EMF Project was rushed and created biased scientific basis for the systematic reviews.

Post Scriptum – something is wrong when agency preparing review of science that is of utmost importance to the society and will affect multi-trillion income of telecoms, has no money to perform review. Odd…

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Dariusz Leszczynski